Colorado Towns Pass Fracking Moratoria, Bans Despite Big Spending by the Oil and Gas Industry

November 6, 2013
Gretchen Goldman
Research Director, Center for Science & Democracy

Does money in politics matter? Many (including UCS) would say yes. It can sway elections, influence what should be fact-based decision making, and determine who can run for office in the first place. But yesterday when it came to questions of whether or not three Colorado communities wanted to allow hydraulic fracturing within their borders, money did not win the day.

In many ways, Colorado has been ground zero in the fracking debate. Here, we’ve seen engaged communities consider the issues, search for the facts, and advocate for policy actions. Some communities decided they didn’t know enough about the associated risks to make an informed decision about whether to allow hydraulic fracturing within their borders. And when talk of local bans and moratoria emerged, the oil and gas industry took notice and the dollars began to flow into local debates.

Yesterday, four Colorado communities—Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette, and Bloomfield—had initiatives on the ballot to impose a moratorium or ban on hydraulic fracturing. In total, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), an industry trade group, poured nearly a million dollars into the four local debates. Despite the tremendous industry spending to defeat the bans and moratoria, in at least three of those places—Fort Collins, Boulder, and Lafayette—the measures passed. For Bloomfield, the vote as of now is too close to call.

UCS has developed a  toolkit to help communities grappling with decisions on fracking to get answers to critical questions for informed decision making.

UCS has developed a toolkit to help communities grappling with decisions on fracking to get answers to critical questions for informed decision making.

Fort Collins voted to pass a five-year moratorium on fracking, despite industry outspending advocates of the proposal 39 to 1. According to Kelly Giddens, Campaign Organizer for Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins (HealthyFoCo), the proposal passed because industry misinformation didn’t sway citizen’s votes. “People understand half-truths when they see them. They did their research.” Advocates, like HealthyFoCo, hope the moratorium will allow the community time to see the public health assessment studies scheduled to be completed by the state in 2016. The group attests that there isn’t sufficient information now to effectively manage the industrial practice. “How can they solve problems if they don’t know what they are?” Giddens said in another interview.

Citizens in communities facing decisions about hydraulic fracturing deserve access to the scientific and other information that informs that decision. A fuller picture of the risks and benefits of oil and gas development can lead communities in Colorado and elsewhere to make better decisions with better outcomes. And this could certainly include lifting moratoria and allowing fracking if communities determine that benefits outweigh the risks—the key is information. In our recently released fracking community toolkit, we encourage communities to ask five critical questions of the industry and the decision makers involved in proposed oil and gas development. It seems three Colorado communities aren’t yet satisfied by the answers to these questions.

The decision of whether or not hydraulic fracturing occurs in these Colorado communities may ultimately lie with the courts, where the city of Longmont is already being sued by COGA and the state of Colorado over its fracking ban, but at least for now, the people have spoken.